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Career Plateauing

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In 1969, Peter and Hull wrote a book called The Peter Principle. The main theme is that organizations promote people to their level of incompetence. In human resources, this is referred to as career plateauing -- reaching the level where one can no longer move upward. There are many reasons for career plateauing. Some reasons have nothing to do with a person themselves but with the number of levels in an organization. Most organizations have been flattening and reducing the number of levels within the organization. This provides better interaction with the customer and reduces costs but tends to demotivate the staff by eliminating chances for promotion.

However, most of the reasons for career plateauing reside in the person themselves. A person who ceases to develop and learn new things will be more likely to plateau at the level they are currently at and if promoted, more likely to fail. Consider the person who has been in a position for many years. Her favorite sayings are "if it ain't broke don't fix it" and "this ain't the way we do things around here". You may actually know someone like this. During this person's tenure, the world and customer or client has changed but she has not changed to meet the new environment. What she most likely has done has established a power base that keeps her in her current position. As she nears her retirement, what does she do? She grooms someone just like her to take her position. However, that person is not likely to have the knowledge, skills and other competencies to meet the new challenges, and without the power base her mentor has developed over time she is likely to fail.

As a person moves up in an organization, people skills and emotional intelligence (EI) become more important in succeeding in that new position. However, people skills and EI are not so easy to come by. These skills must be developed over time. Many reasons why people plateau is because they are not self-aware of their ability to work with people. Many are task or project-oriented and do not have time to deal with other people. This habit of ignoring the need for people skills to meet project deadlines can be a career killer! Here are some skills that must be mastered to develop good people skills and EI:

  • Develop listening skills. It is easy to ignore what people are saying when you are trying to meet a deadline. Practice listening to them even if you are pressured not to by the many tasks that need to be done. Practice techniques like repeating or rephrasing what you hear: "...so you mean..."
  • Give positive and constructive feedback. It is important to provide positive and constructive feedback in a way that inspires people to change and develop. Your employees are often eager to accept this feedback. Your boss or colleagues may not be. However, it is important to learn this skill with people at all levels of the organization.
  • Read. It is important to find books and articles on emotional intelligence and developing people skills to learn more constructive ways of developing your style.
  • Take a personality test. A good one to help your people skills is one like DISC or Myers-Briggs. This will help you to see how you think and how others think. Personality conflicts are often based on our different ways of thinking and seeing the world. Books like Type Talk At Work can provide more information about the results of your personality test (this book is based on the Myers-Briggs assessment).
  • Get a mentor or coach. Find a mentor who can help you and hold you accountable and provide opportunities to work on these skills. Some people hire coaches to help them with these skills.
  • Participate in a 360-degree feedback assessment. Some organizations provide these assessments. These are helpful in providing confidential feedback on how upper management, your peers, and employees see you in your current position.
  • Be proactive in developing a personal gap analysis. Goal setting is a powerful way to develop your skills. One way to direct your goals is to write down 7 top skills needed to be effective in a position you are working towards. Then assessing where you are now and determining what skills gaps there are between where you are now to where you want to be. Your mentor, coach or boss can help you with this.

In order to avoid career plateauing, it is important to develop skills you will need for your next career move. Be prepared ahead of time for that promotion or career move to avoid the Peter Principle trap!

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